Are We in Guantanamo? A very unwelcome welcome back to the US

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I am appalled and embarrassed! What a horrible welcome back to the US!

It was a long day today, flying from Bogota to Newark. We were all excited and, truth be told, a little anxious. As we were landing Esteban, my husband, said “Be prepared. They often have security  people with dogs sniffing people’s luggage on flights arriving from Bogota.”  Fair enough. I have seen that on flights from many places, not just from Colombia.

What I have never seen however is what followed when we got off the plane. We stepped into the narrow walkway from the plane to the airport (what are those called, jetways?) to see three security personnel with a dog in the jetway.  The guy in charge was blond, about 6-1/2 feet tall and I would guess around 300 pounds. He was yelling in a very aggressive tone, “KEEP WALKING. KEEP MOVING. STAY TO THE RIGHT. I SAID KEEP MOVING.”

What??? Are we arriving to the US or to Guantanamo or some other prison?

Meanwhile, the dog was not particularly well trained and kept jumping on people. One woman stopped when he jumped on her, obviously scared, as the big blond guy screamed at her, “I SAID KEEP MOVING.”

I was horrified and deeply, deeply embarassed. In my experience, US government officials are criticized in many countries, especially in Colombia, for their rudeness with people who apply for travel visas, but this was just too much. What kind of a message does this send to visitors to our country? It is absolutely possible to maintain security while treating people with dignity and respect. The police and military in Colombia do it all the time! (I am sure there are times when this is not true but in my fourteen months here, I have never seen anybody treated rudely by security forces who are around everywhere.)

As I was contemplating saying something (the obvious drawback being the strong probability of spending the next three hours being interrogated by somebody on a power trip), the security officer with the out-of-control dog almost tripped over Saige in her stroller. He didn’t even stop to look at us or say “excuse me”! I laughed when we walked into the immigration area and saw posters proclaiming the Department’s commitment to treating people with courtesy and respect. What a joke!

In a split second, I decided not to say anything because I just couldn’t deal with much of anything after flying all day with three kids. But the incident still haunts me. If we don’t speak up for our rights and the rights of others in a so-called democracy, who will? Why are our tax dollars going to pay the salaries of people like this? I regret my decision not to say anything. I wish I could turn back the clock.

On a different note, we are spending the night tonight at the Newark Hilton and flying to Boston tomorrow. Newark is like a transition point from developing country living to the US. The road from the airport to the hotel was full of potholes and trash. We did all enjoy bagels however. It has been fourteen months. Far too long to go without a bagel.

I am also astounded by the multi-culturalism of the US. I realize that I have become accustomed in Colombia to seeing faces that reflect their indigenous and Spanish heritage and to everybody speaking Spanish. To see people from all over the world with accents from all over the world, as well as Americans with roots from all over the world, is exhilarating! People are chatty here in the US too (something that I, being the extrovert that I am, love).

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